TAMPA, Fla. — 2018 was accurately billed as “The Year of the Woman” in American politics, as an unprecedented 102 females took seats in the House of Representatives.
But it would be inaccurate to say that the surge of female lawmakers ascendance was a bipartisan experience, as 89 of those women were Democrats.
- Ruth's List Florida targeting 18 Florida House seats in 2020
- GOP groups are working to get more women to run for federal office
- There are more women serving in Congress today than ever before
“It was not a good year for Republican women. I absolutely agree,” said Carole Jean Jordan, the former Republican Party of Florida Chairwoman and a founding member of Maggie’s List, a federal political action committee created to support female candidates who support conservative values.
The dominance of female Democrats in 2018 led to another national organization devoted to getting Republican women elected to congress – Winning for Women – to create a Super PAC called Winning for Women Action Fund.
“Our Super PAC was created to provide nearly unlimited amounts of resources on behalf of a candidate and go in early and help them if need be in the primary, and in the general, and get them across the finish line,” Olivia Perez-Cubas, the communications director at Winning for Women, said.
The group is currently working on raising enough cash to elect 20 Republican women to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020.
But in Florida state and local politics, there appears to be no Republican equivalent to Ruth’s List Florida, a 501c4 group which works to recruit, train, and elect female pro-choice Democrats to office – any office – from school boards to city council, the state legislature, and Cabinet–level positions.
“We’ve recruited these women, we’ve helped them with their campaigns, we’ve helped them learn how to fundraise and helped them with their messaging,” said Penny Parks, who serves as the treasurer of Ruth’s List.
Last week, dozens of women, and a few men, jammed the second floor bar area of the Floridian Hotel in downtown Tampa for a fundraiser for Ruth’s List Florida, which was founded in 2008 by former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who had the distinction of being the last Democrat elected to a Cabinet level position in Florida until Nikki Fried won the Agriculture Commissioner race in 2018.
In the last 11 years, the group has trained and supported more than 400 female Democratic candidates for office.
Among the candidates at last week’s event, included candidates like Jessica Harrington (running in the House District 64 primary), former Prosecutor Betsy Young (running for state attorney in Manatee, Sarasota, and DeSoto Counties), and Hillsborough County commission candidates Gwen Myers, Jen McDonald, and Sky White.
After so much emphasis on how the female vote spurred the Democrats to win back the House of Representatives last year, there has been some disappointment expressed at the lack of success this year in the presidential election, which, other than Elizabeth Warren, is dominated by white males.
Pamela Goodman, the chair of Ruth’s List Florida, said she doesn’t talk a lot about the presidential race.
“I truly believe what we are doing – working now with 255 women…I believe this is really where the change begins, particularly in a state like this,” Goodman said.
Ruth’s List is concentrating on legislative recruitment as the year winds down. Goodman said her group has identified 18 seats which they believe are “flippable,” with 12 women already having announced that they are running in them.
Meanwhile, groups like Winning for Women Action Fund are working equally hard to get conservative females elected to higher office.
“We focus on federal races only, with an emphasis on early recruiting, providing early support, even in primaries,” said Perez-Cubas, who used to work in Senator Marco Rubio’s communications office. “One of the biggest hurdles to seeing more Republican women in office is getting them out of their primaries for many reasons, so you got to do something, so we’re willing to play in primaries.”
Perez-Cubas said that her organization recruited more than 100 candidates for federal office in 2018, but most didn’t make it out of their primaries. And only one candidate that they recruited was ultimately successful – Carol Miller out of West Virginia.
“Which is like, so sad, and not an accurate reflection of the party, or obviously the country,” she laments.
Though they don’t get involved in state or local races, Perez-Cubas said her group has already spoken with several candidates in Florida about potentially running for congress next year. She said they backed Maria Elvira Salazar in her bid for Congress against Donna Shalala in Miami-Dade last year, and will do so again in 2020.
So at least for now, Ruth’s List Florida remains the only group in Florida working to get more females into political office.
There is “no organized group that I’m aware of,” Goodman said. "I honestly wish there was."